Federal authorities unveiled yesterday the first comprehensive management plan aimed at restoring dwindling Atlantic stocks of migratory fish such as swordfish, sharks, tuna and marlin.
The National Marine Fisheries Service effort, an attempt to reverse years of overfishing of many ocean species, was described as a comprehensive process that involved more than 5,000 environmentalists and commercial and recreational fishermen who testified during 27 public hearings in the past six months.
The managed species include Atlantic bluefin, bigeye, yellowfin, albacore and skipjack tuna, Atlantic swordfish and 72 species of shark in U.S. waters from Maine to Texas. Restrictions also apply to billfish such as blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish and longbill spearfish, species that are usually captured and released by anglers.
The management plan, which will go into effect June 1, will replace piecemeal rules with a broad policy aimed at matching international restrictions that officials hope will restore fish populations in 10 to 20 years, said Terry D. Garcia, assistant secretary of commerce.
Environmentalists said the agency's action fell short of what was necessary, especially to reduce the estimated 30,000 young swordfish killed in U.S. waters every year.
"It's not enough. The time is running out for swordfish," said Vickie Spruill, executive director of SeaWeb, an organization that has been urging restaurants to remove swordfish from their menus. "This is a fish that's been slipping down the slope for a decade, and we keep getting procrastination."
Restrictions on yellowfin tuna drew fire from recreational anglers who say the rules unfairly target them. Leaders of the 60,000-member Recreational Fishing Alliance, which opposes a three-fish-a-day limit on yellowfin tuna, vowed to try to reverse the plan on Capitol Hill.
"We're going to fight this," said Jim Donofrio, the organization's executive director. "This is arbitrary, and it's not justified biologically. The yellowfin tuna is the bread and butter of the recreational fishing industry."
Charter boat captains in Ocean City say they are more concerned about restrictions on bluefin tuna. Bob Gowar, chief captain at the 35-boat Ocean City Fishing Center, said members of the Ocean City Charter Captains Association think the status quo is too restrictive.
Numbers of bluefin tuna should improve as a result of a one-month ban on longline fishing of the species by commercial fishermen in a 21,600-square-mile area off the coast of New Jersey, fisheries officials said, a move that will affect about 100 fishermen. The agency decided not to impose a similar closed area to protect juvenile swordfish, said fisheries service director Penny Dalton.
Some shark species, mostly large coastal sharks, have declined by as much as 85 percent in recent years, officials said. Swordfish populations have declined dramatically because too many immature fish are caught, especially along the Gulf Coast, officials said.
Fisheries officials said they will push for tougher international restrictions when they meet with 25 other nations in November to debate quotas for threatened species.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 4/27/99